The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom was one of those books for me.
It's 1791. Lavinia is 7 yrs old and her entire family has perished on the boat from Ireland to America. The captain takes her to his own plantation as an indentured servant. She is sent to live with the slaves who run the kitchen house. Abinia, as she comes to be known, is welcomed into the hearts and homes of Mama Mae, her daughter Belle (who is the captain's illegitimate daughter) and their extended families. They love her as one of their own, despite the fact that she is white.
As Lavinia grows, she is taken to the big house to help with the captain's wife, who is battling an addiction to opium. It is here that Lavinia finally has to acknowledge the chasm between black and white, master and slave. And where her place is. As she grows older, circumstances conspire and she is forced to make difficult choices that have grievous repercussions. This is s a very bare bones synopsis as there is so much more to this book.
Grissom forced me to break one of my cardinal rules. I never, ever, read ahead in a book. I got so caught up in the story, the characters and the hurtling plot that I was reading way too fast to take it all in. I had to find out what happened, then go back and slowly take the journey to the event.
Grissom's descriptions of the settings, social life, characters and dialogue truly had them jumping off the page. Indeed, Grissom herself says that "For the most part, Lavinia and Belle dictated the story to me. From the beginning it became quite clear that if I tried to embellish or change their story, their narration would stop." I became invested in each and every character, loving some and hating others, but each evoking emotion is this reader.
The Kitchen House is told in alternating chapters from Lavinia and Belle's viewpoints The same event takes on a very different hue when seen through another set of eyes.
Slavery is a main theme of the book. But slavery in many different forms - addictions, societal expectations and mores as well as racial. But so is strength, again in many forms.
I literally could not put The Kitchen House down. It's destined to be a keeper in my library. Read an excerpt.
Kathleen and her husband restored an old Virginia plantation tavern. In researching it's past, she found an old map with a notation - Negro Hill. This was the impetus for The Kitchen House. She is currently working on a novel called Crow Mary - about a young Saskatchewan Crow woman traded to in marriage to a fur trader. Noted on my 'ones to watch for' list.